Peruvian Adventure

With the main goal of our Peruvian adventure being my hike to Machu Picchu, documented in my previous post, I feel I would be remiss if I didn’t discuss the other wonderful experiences we shared as a family. We began our adventure at 11,152 feet in Cusco. The city was bustling with the annual Inti Raymi only a few days away. The Inti Raymi, or sun festival, is the Incan celebration of the winter solstice. People were coming to Cusco from all over the world to experience the festival. The Inti Raymi starts in Cusco with the Incan king proclaiming the celebration to be held at the fortress of Saqsaywaman, at 12,142 feet above the city of Cusco. It was a once in a lifetime experience watching locals celebrating their history. Everyone was dressed in the brilliant colors of Peru.

We had several days to explore Cusco and attempt to acclimate to the altitude and lack of oxygen. Coca tea was provided at every opportunity especially breakfast. It is rumored to help with the altitude. I wouldn’t be able to say scientifically if it helped or not, but the three of us escaped any significant altitude issues. I personally felt that significant water intake was equally important. Our lips stayed chapped. My videos of the trip are on YouTube if you search Dennis Thrasher.

We had wonderful days exploring the cathedral, museums, Incan palace, shops and the food, oh the food. All of the restaurants received fresh produce daily from local farmers. The food was truly special in each restaurant we visited. We had our first Cuy (guinea pig) and alpaca steak along with wonderful stews, potatoes and fresh breads. It was an easy walk downhill to the main plaza followed by a difficult uphill walk back due to the lack of oxygen. We would rest by stopping in the local shops to explore. The hotel provided oxygen in our room to ease our tired bodies to sleep.

Following the Inti Raymi, our trip continued into the Sacred Valley for magnificent views of the mostly agricultural region. Mt. Veronica, the area’s highest peak, loomed in the distance at 18,642 feet.

We visited several interesting sites in the Sacred Valley. Along with the magnificent views, we visited a large salt mine and an Incan agriculture experiment station called Moray. The Inca had learned that each tier of their terracing had a slightly different ecosystem. They experimented with what grew best in the different areas. It’s possible they even used this site to genetically modify crops.

We had time to visit a local shop that specialized in naturally dyed alpaca wool products. All the brilliant colors of Peru were made using various natural items and techniques. Needless to say, the locals parted us from some of our money.

We worked our way to the end of the Sacred Valley, Ollantaytambo. Ollantaytambo is a charming village complete with its own set of Incan ruins and stunning mountain views. Ollantaytambo is completely walkable. You can stroll the stone streets and shop, eat or visit a couple sets of ruins.

After a nice day in Ollantaytambo, our family separated the next morning. I left early the next morning to hike KM104 (details in my previous post) while the ladies had a free day to shop and explore to their hearts content. They would leave by train later in the day so we could meet up at our Aguas Calientes hotel. It is important to note that luggage is not allowed on the train. We each packed a backpack with a few clothes and toiletries and left our luggage in hotel storage. One of our tour team members picked up our luggage and returned it to our original Cusco hotel.

The family made their way to the Aguas Calientes hotel later that evening to find me washed and completely collapsed in the bed. They thought I was dead – ye of little faith. Dinner and Pisco Sours were included with our hotel. The Pisco Sours eased the leg pain. The morning would bring our greatest adventure. A full tour of Machu Picchu.

Machu Picchu is one of the new wonders of the world and an UNESCO world heritage site. It is truly a special place that you could explore endlessly. We had most of the day to explore before returning to town for dinner and shopping. Our evening train would return us to our Cusco hotel. We would spend one last night in Cusco before boarding a flight to Puerto Maldonado, the beginning of the Amazon River.

We left our original guide and driver at the Cusco airport. Once we landed at the small airstrip in Puerto Maldonado, we were picked up by hotel staff and taken to the docks. We boarded long, skinny river boats to make our way down the river to our jungle cabana. We would have two and a half days to explore the Amazon Jungle. We were shown our three walled jungle cabana and assigned a naturalist almost immediately. We took a short hike with our naturalists where he explained all of the plants and animals we encountered. We returned for a 5 star dinner complete with beer and wine. The hotel ran on generator power that was turned on and off at specific times. They turned off the power while we were on tours. They would restore the power at meal times and until about midnight.

During our stay, we had a night river cruise to see cayman, a jungle hike, a lake boat ride to see rare giant river otters, a jungle canopy tour and a night jungle hike. We found a tarantula nest during the night hike.

We said our goodbyes as we worked our way back up the river to the airport for our last stop before returning home. We had 24 hours in Lima before we were done.

We were met at the Lima airport by our new guide and driver. Lima was much more cosmopolitan than the rural Cusco. They took us to the last hotel of our stay. We walked to the closest plaza and enjoyed our first ceviche, raw seafood slightly cooked in citrus juice mixed with onions and peppers. The following morning we had a half day tour of Lima before our return home. We explored the cathedral that held Francisco Pizarro’s remains, the catacombs and the famous Love Park before our night flight back to the US.

Peru is not to be left off your bucket list. We found the people warm and inviting. The food rivals anywhere in the world. The views were endless and beautiful. Do yourself a favor and plan this trip now.

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52 Hike Challenge Memoirs 

So what did I learn on my 52 Hike Challenge?  After all, I had a lot of time to think.  Surely something worthwhile came from this effort.  I finished 52 hikes, 178 miles in total, in 10 1/2 months.  I hiked Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Tennessee and Spain.  I must have learned something, and I did indeed.


First, I learned Alabama, my part of the world is as pretty as any other, you are just familiar with it.  You have to leave the car to find the prettiest spots.

Not only did I hike and confirm my love of the outdoors, I also stopped to smell the roses.  I explored the small towns.


I learned you can still be physically and mentally strong at 50 (ok 48).

I learned there are no cellphone signals at the best hikes.  Hike prepared and be safe.

Spider webs across trails mean you are the first one hiking today.  Watch for snakes and bears.  While on the subject, big lizards sound like snakes when you’re alone.

Climbing hills in life sucks, but the top has the best view.  Stay strong my friends, and never quit.

Mental toughness and work ethic will carry you as far as your education.


I would love to have shown you everything but you can’t live broadcast waterfalls, they are always in a hole. You’ll have to visit yourself.


Anytime you catch a break going down, you’ll eventually have to walk back up, just like life.

I don’t hate snakes as much, they are fascinating at a safe distance.

I learned how to offset my pictures so my Facebook profile picture doesn’t mess it up.

I love and miss my family when they’re not with me.


I had 72 degrees temperature variances in hike temperature, plan for it.

Proper equipment makes things easier.

To my daughter, don’t let anyone tell you what you can’t do, lift those weights, jump those horses, get off the couch and find your life passion.


Sometimes planes fly into mountains, what legacy are you leaving?


Keep toenails short for downhill walking, just sayin.

Shortcuts always, always end poorly!  Stay on the trail.

Lastly, please keep Gatlinburg in your prayers.  We left town Sunday morning before the fires made it to town.  I’m hearing that our cabin on Sunday was burned down on Monday.  We drove past the fire as we were leaving but I never thought it would make it to town.

Hike 49, 50, 51 and 52 – Victory 

I have been slow to post my last four hikes.  I went to some pretty special places during my 52 hike challenge.  On to the hikes.


Hike 49 was at Amicalola Falls.  The lodge just up from the falls is the start of the Appalachian Trail “Approach Trail”.  The hike here is paved and somewhat steep, but only 1 mile, culminating in several flights of stairs to the bottom of the falls.  Definitely worth a stop if you’re in the Dehlonega, Georgia area.  


Hike 50 was a short distance away to Springer Mountain, the official start/end of the Appalachian Trail depending on direction.  I couldn’t see finishing this challenge without a little time on the AT. This trail is a steep 2.5 mile trail from the parking area to the top of Springer Mountain and back.  You can also see where the Approach Trail enters the official AT.  Such history and beauty here.  


Hike 51 move about 200 miles North to the Smoky Mountain National Park.  First up was Clingman’s Dome, the highest point in the park.  The Appalachian Trail also exits the woods and joins this neat place.  Unfortunately, the observation tower was fogged in on this day, so no views were to be had.  It is hard to believe that you could have hiked from Springer Mountain to here if you were so inclined.


Hike 52, where do you go last?  My choice was the Abram’s Falls trail in Cade’s Cove.  It was recommended by a friend.  This 5 mile trail had some long inclines as you worked over a ridge to a beautiful set of falls.  The color of the foliage and the beauty of the falls made this a perfect final hike in my challenge.  

I would like to thank everyone for their support and encouragement during my challenge.  I would not have finished without you.


Hike #44 & 45 (n/a & 34) – Sloss Furnace & Turkey Creek Loop

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This weekend, we headed to Birmingham both to get in a couple of hikes and to see Impractical Jokers live at the Birmingham Jefferson Civic Center.  The weekend was full of fun and family.  It also had a little language that my daughter shouldn’t have heard.  I am sure that wasn’t my first or likely my last parenting fail.

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After our drive to Birmingham, we started the weekend visiting the Sloss Furnace Trail (Urban Hike).  The Sloss furnace was really the beginning of Birmingham as it is known.  James Withers Sloss found all of the natural elements needed to produce iron in Birmingham, iron ore, coal and limestone.  He worked out a deal with the railroads to connect his plant to the world and the rest is history, really rusty history.  Iron was produced here from 1882-1971.  The Sloss Furnace is a National Landmark and the only blast furnace open for touring.  It happened to also be fully decked out as a haunted house on this occasion.

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After the furnace and checking in to our hotel, we had dinner at Babalu Tacos & Tapas.  The tapas here are more of a fusion than Spanish.  They also happen to be larger than most tapas.  One or two plates will be enough for most here.  We watched Alabama dismantle Tennessee in football while enjoying our small plates and getting ready for the show.

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The morning brought a short drive up to Pinson for the Turkey Creek Loop.  This property is part of the Forever Wild program in Alabama.  Turkey Creek was far better than most Forever Wild properties that I have visited.  There was clearly some investment here.  They had signs, trails and bathrooms (out houses).  Most Forever Wild properties are lacking in facilities.

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You can see the main creek and falls area right off the parking area making this one of the more accessible falls I’ve visited.  The trail starts just to the left of the parking area as you face the mountain.  We made the decision to hike the Thompson Trace Trail and connect with the Narrows Ridge Trail to form a roughly 2.5 mile loop.  The trail is listed as moderate due to a few steep inclines.  The trail really heads from the parking area straight to the top of the ridge.  From this point, it is fairly rolling as it works its way across the ridge for about 1.4 miles.  Once you reach the Narrows Ridge Trail, head right to loop back to the parking area.  The hike was roughly 2.5 miles and 39 flights of stairs according to my phone.  This was my first hike with the foliage starting to turn.  It made for a great morning.

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After failing to find anything original for lunch in Pinson or the surrounding area, we made our final stop for the weekend at Lloyds in Birmingham.  Lloyds is a family favorite serving comfort food.  My family has stopped here to eat literally my entire life.  Give it a try when in town.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hike #39 & #40 (G44 & n/a) – Pine Mountain Trail & Beaver Pond Trail


Let’s just say it’s too hot to hike Georgia in August.  Yet, I’ll never finish my 52 hike challenge if I don’t.  I was able to get in two trails today, the first 5 miles of the 23 mile Pine Mountain Trail plus the roughly 2 mile Beaver Pond Trail.  Together, the two trails form the 7 mile Wolfden Trail.  I plan to continue my progress down the Pine Mountain Trail until I’ve completed it all.


I was very impressed with the condition of the trail.  The Pine Mountain Trail Association should be very proud of their work.  The trails were clear and well marked.  There were also very nice bridges and boardwalks in all the wet areas.  I don’t believe I’ve seen a trail better cared for during my journey.  


The first 5 miles works its way down to a nice creek with several waterfalls along the way. Ferns were the main foliage in this moist area.  After a long hike down the stream, the long, relentless hike back to the top begins.  I confess that I still struggle on the hills especially in this heat.  The trail had decent traffic today as I passed several groups.  I took a minute to broadcast my first “Facebook Live” about 3/4 of the way to the top.  I’m sure I was a hot mess, but it gave me a minute to rest.

I really wanted a swim at this waterfall.  The cool, clear pool looked great in today’s heat.  


I also took time today for a history lesson.  My daughter, Megan, recently read a book about slavery.  One point in the book was that escaped slaves followed the moss on the trees to head North.  I couldn’t  help but text her this picture proving it was doable.


 

The last two miles, The Beaver Pond Trail, although less scenic (and less cared for) offered the only mountain views on this trail.  It was also required to make the loop back to the parking area.  Pine Mountain, arguably, has the best views your likely to find this far South.  Another interesting part of this trail was that it passed through a tornado damaged area.


The stripped area was full of seedlings.  Life always finds a way.

Hike #38 (n/a) – Flagg Mountain Fire Tower


I picked this hike based on location. I’m on my way to Sylacauga for a business trip.  This hike was just West of Sylacauga giving me the perfect opportunity to squeeze in a hike.


This hike was difficult, both to find and hike.  I basically drove around Flagg Mountain looking for the trail head.  I found it after several miles down the worst dirt roads I’ve seen for some time.  I’m not sure which bridge I trusted more,  the “new” bridge in front of me or the “old” bridge to the left.  The old bridge was basically an old WWII temporary bridge.

The trail itself was roughly 5 miles and 118 flights.  Every time I start feeling that my conditioning has improved, a hike like this comes along.  The 118 flight were very difficult in the Alabama heat.

This trail is the Southernmost point of the Pinhoti Trail.  The Pinhoti continues to the Appalachian Trail.  There has been some effort made to extend the AT to this point.  The trail itself was narrow but well blazed.  I followed the blue blazes of the Pinhoti until I reached the white blazes that head to some old cabins and the fire tower itself.  There were a few trees across the trail but also a great deal of evidence that the trail is being kept up.


Unfortunately, the fire tower is currently closed to the public.  I understand that a conservation project is underway.


I feel like this area is a missed opportunity.  This land is protected as a wildlife habitat but would make a nice state park with a little effort.  A few rustic cabins and some road work would reveal the full potential of this special place.  The views were fantastic.  I only wished I could have seen the view from the tower.


Definitely not for couch potatoes, but with some effort great views are for the taking.

Hike #32 (n/a) – Pigeon Hill Loop Trail


This 5.0 mile trail was also at Kennesaw Mountain Georgia.  I hiked this trail back to back with the Mountain trail making for a 10 mile and 94 flight day.  My feet reminded me that I’m still working my way up.  The trail itself had rolling hills but was notably more flat than the Mountain trail.


I noticed the complete lack of water on Kennesaw Mountain.  It made me wonder how so many men could be supported here.  This trail gave some of the answers.  The troop lines were closer together here, but it was clear to me that the Southern troop line extended off the mountain and past a significant stream.  This must have been to protect a water source for the men.

The number of people reduced steadily as you leave the main mountain area.  Still, the park was being heavily used for hiking, trail running and dog walking.  There were many alternate parking areas were you could have easy access to one trail or another.  It would take a little time to explore all this park has to offer.

Hike #31 (58G) – Kennesaw Mountain NMP


Kennesaw Mountain NMP was the location of a major battle in the taking of Atlanta during the Civil War.  The high ground was owned by the confederate army.  The full hike is 5.0 miles up the main mountain and the neighboring Little Kennesaw Mountain.  There are shorter or longer options available.  There is also a shuttle to the top if you don’t hike.  The park is free to the public and was very busy on this Memorial Day.


The hike starts at the gift shop and proceeds up the mountain at a challenging incline.  It is roughly a mile to the top.  Being Memorial Day, cannons were being fired at the base of the mountain as I made my way to the top.   Once there, you can see the position of four cannons and a scenic view of downtown Atlanta.  It made me wonder what the view would have been during the Civil War.  Past the Atlanta skyline, you can also see the distant Stone Mountain.


The confederate soldiers were at a disadvantage even holding the high ground.  The Southern cannons were inaccurate smooth bores while the Northern troops had highly accurate rifled cannons.  The entire mountain was covered in trenches built by Southern soldiers for protection.  Troop positions were noted on signs throughout the park.


The mountain itself was covered in large boulders that no doubt played a role in protecting Northern troops as they took the mountain.


The top of the mountain was covered in bluming cacti which are unusual to the area.


This is a lovely mountain hike that can be added to an Atlanta visit.  Still, the constant trench lines remind you of what happened at this place.  Many of the wounded from this battle and those that followed were transported by rail to a small, inadequate hospital beside Auburn University, my alma mater and current town.  Most to never recover.

Hike #28 (65G) – Providence Canyon 


Today, I slipped across the border and had my first hike from my new book “Hiking Georgia”.  Providence Canyon was a state park but is now listed as an outdoor recreational area.  Regardless, the facilities and trails were in great shape.  
Providence Canyon has two trails.  We took the 6.7 mile back country red trail.  They also have a 3 mile white trail that skips the back country but gets you to the canyon itself.  Wear appropriate footwear for this hike.  The first mile of this trail was literally down a stream.  The water was just over the surface and the footing was firm but it was a little odd walking through running water.

The red trail eventually leaves the creek and circles through a spectacular forest.  The trail is wide and clear.  The towering hardwoods provided nice shade for the entire hike.  Most of this trail is flat either at the top or bottom of the canyon.  There are a couple of very step inclines in or out of the canyon, just enough to keep the hike interesting.  We were credited with 28 flights of stairs on this hike.  The back country portion of this trail also had several nice camping areas for those looking to get away.

The best views and photo opportunities came in the last mile of the hike.  Ironically, this mile is close to the entry road making it possible to see the canyon without hiking.


I was impressed with the traffic on the trail.  It was a beautiful day and a lot of people were on the trail.  The picnic areas were also being used by groups.  I would rate this hike in the top quartile of my hikes.  Providence Canyon is worth a stop.

For dinner, we circled back through Columbus, Georgia and stopped at the Cannon Brew Pub.  This restaurant was in a restored brick building downtown.  The food here was a mix of American fare and British pub food.  We all enjoyed our meals.  Give them a try when in town.  

A nice side trip in Columbus would be to the National Infantry Museum just inside Fort Benning.  We didn’t have time today, but the museum is very nice and worth your time to visit.

Hike #25 (26) – Chinnabee Silent Trail


Today’s hike was a 5.4 mile and 53 flight return to the Talladega National Forest on the Chinnabee Silent Trail.  The trail was named after Chief Chinnabee of the Upper Creeks.  It is said that he is buried at the base of Mt. Cheaha.  I have not been able to determine if this is fact or legend, but it seems reasonable for a chief.  The trail was built by a Boy Scout troop from the Alabama Institute for the Deaf and Blind, hence “Silent Trail”.


I found the trail today to be anything but silent.  Many hikers were out taking advantage our our wonderful weather.  I was rarely out of site from another group along the trail.  I missed the solitude of being alone, but enjoyed seeing so many outside today.


This trail begins at the Chinnabee Lake Recreation Area.  The first mile is flat to gently rolling along Cheaha Creek called the Devil’s Den.  You take a short boardwalk high above the creek which has great views of the rapids below.  The hike continues to be flat as you return and follow the creek.


The remainder of the trail diverts from the creek and goes up and down several peaks and valleys.  I found the ecology here to be interesting.  One valley would be covered in newly sprouting Oak Leaf Hydrangeas while the next would have ferns.  Each valley seemed to have a slightly different look.


Around the 2.5 mile point, you will find the Cheaha Falls Shelter designed for overnight stays.  It is only a short walk further to this hike’s focal point – Cheaha Falls.  From here you can return to the parking area or cross the creek and continue.  It will be my turnaround point for today.


I found this trail to be slightly more interesting than the Nubbin Trail which is  in the same general area.  This trail had more continuous views.  It did come with 53 flights of elevation, not too bad with a day pack but would have been challenging with a full pack.


My next hike will be the 2016 March for Babies next weekend.  We have not counted everything yet, but should be close to our $15,000 goal.  I am touched by your support!